Alcohol habit forming?

Originally Published: May 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 25, 2014
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Dear Alice,

What kind of alcohol is habit forming?


Dear Drinker,

Wine. Beer. A vodka martini with extra olives, shaken, not stirred. Each person may have different preferences when it comes to alcoholic beverages, but what all types of alcohol have in common is that when consumed in excess, any may become habit forming (addictive).

Alcohol dependence (a.k.a., alcoholism) is characterized by an intense craving for alcohol, despite recognizing that alcohol use may be destructive to the people drinking it and to their family and friends. Similar to those who are addicted to drugs, those who are dependent on alcohol develop a tolerance to it, meaning that they need to consume more and more of the alcohol to achieve the desired feelings. In addition to tolerance, other signs of alcohol dependence include:

  • A strong need, or craving, to drink alcohol
  • Inability to limit the quantity of alcohol consumed on any given occasion
  • Physical dependence, characterized by withdrawal symptoms when a person stops drinking after a period of drinking quite heavily (FYI, check out Alcohol withdrawal symptoms)

Alcohol dependence differs from alcohol abuse, which is characterized by excessive alcohol consumption, without a physical dependency on alcohol. However, if someone abuses alcohol for an extended period of time, s/he may become alcohol dependent. The likelihood of becoming dependent on alcohol may be genetic: people who have alcohol dependent family members have a greater likelihood of becoming alcohol dependent themselves, if put in similar drinking situations. Excessive drinking, no matter what you call it, may result in a destructive pattern of poor judgment, affect families and friendships, and may even have legal consequences. For more information on alcohol dependence and abuse, you may want to check out the responses in the Go Ask Alice! Alcohol and Other Drugs archives.

If you're a student at Columbia and feel that you may be alcohol dependent and would like to seek help, you can make an appointment to see a healthcare provider at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). You can also take an anonymous alcohol self-assessment, which includes other Columbia resources on alcohol use. If you're not a student at Columbia and would like more information about getting help, you may visit the Alcoholic Anonymous website to find a local chapter near you.

Cheers to moderate consumption of your preferred beverage!